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Drug war violence sweeps Mexican border state, 25 dead

Stephen C. Webster
Raw Story
May 3, 2010

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico – Mexico’s bloody drug wars saw a new spasm of killings late Saturday into Sunday, with 25 people fatally shot in the northern state of Chihuahua bordering the United States.

Seven of the deaths occurred in violence-plagued Ciudad Juarez, Mexico’s murder capital, bringing to 62 the number of people killed in the city over the past week.

The 18 other slayings overnight included four people fatally shot by automatic weapons fire in a bar in the town of Camargo, near the state capital Chihuahua City, and two women whose bodies were found stuffed in the trunk of an abandoned car in the same town, prosecutors said.

So far this year, more than 850 people have been killed in Ciudad Juarez, a city of 1.3 million, while more than 2,660 were killed there in 2009, according to official figures.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon visited Ciudad Juarez in February and apologized to numerous grieving families who lost loved ones in a January massacre that claimed the lives of 15 children and teens. The president admitted that his three-year crackdown on crime with more than 50,000 troops spread across the country “is not enough,” and vowed to redesign a new strategy against crime and violence with community cooperation.

To the east in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey early Sunday, three men and two women were trampled to death when some 10,000 people at an outdoor concert stampeded after three shots were fired, presumably in the air, by somebody at the fairground, local officials said.

Another 30 people were treated for injuries from the jostling, they added.

Moments before the gunshots, the crowd appears to have been primed for panic when shouts “hit the ground” and “gunfight” were heard, witnesses told the Mexican newspaper Reforma.

Monterrey, in Nuevo Laredo state that also borders the United States, has seen a spike in gang violence pitting the Guf of Mexico and Los Zetas drug cartels, officials said.

Authorities blame the northern Mexico violence on a battle for control of key drug trafficking routes into the United States. Former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda, now a professor at New York University, has argued that because the drug cartels derive at least 60 percent of their funding from the illegal cultivation, smuggling and sales of marijuana in the United States, both countries should consider a path toward legalization.

“I think what Calderón and the United States should do is to sort of sit back for a second, think this through, see what they really want to achieve, what is achievable and what should be done that’s new,” he said. “For example, there are more and more states in the US that are moving towards decriminalization at least of marijuana. Mexico is still a very important producer of marijuana. Some people say that up to 60 percent of the profits of Mexico’s cartels come from marijuana.

“Well, if the United States or California’s de facto legalizing it through medical marijuana, what sense does it make for Mexicans to die to stop marijuana from entering the US when once it enters it can be sold legally at over 1,000 dispensaries in Los Angeles, more than the number of public schools there are in Los Angeles.”

The sentiment has been echoed by numerous U.S. officials, including Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, who said that while he’s not in favor of legalization, he’d like to see the issue debated. Goddard added that calls to legalize marijuana as a way of fighting the cartels are “a strong argument” for taking the first steps toward ending “the devastation in Mexico.”

“If we can’t stop it in Mexico, we’re gonna end up with violence in the United States and none of us want that,” he warned.

California Governor Arnold Schwartznegger has also welcomed the debate, prompting California voters to organize a ballot initiative on legalization that is to be voted upon later this year.

Fifty-six percent of Americans want marijuana laws brought in line with or made less severe than those governing the sales and consumption of alcohol, according to an Associated Press/CNBC poll released on April 20.

More than 22,700 people have died across Mexico in suspected drug violence since the end of 2006, despite a government-ordered nationwide crackdown involving the deployment of troops and police.

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